In this week’s #FeministFriday, Elle takes on the so-called “pink tax” — charging more for the same things because they’re for women.
Being a woman sucks, economically speaking. It sucks a lot. And in so many ways. There are so many inventive ways in which women get screwed over, money-wise. Sometimes the economic disadvantage is large scale, like the persistent gender pay gap (in case you’ve forgotten, you can read my rant thoughtful article on it here). Sometimes it’s about the different standards of behavior and appearance that men and women are held to. The average woman is walking around with about $170 worth of makeup in their bags. 54% of men don’t use a single beauty product each day, while 35% of women use 1-2 products, 17% of women use 3-4 products a day, and 7% of women use up to 6 products a day. This can extend to clothing and accessories. When was the last time a guy had to stare at an outfit in the supposedly “professional” section of a store and think, “well, I’d better also buy a cardigan, a slip, and leggings, or my boss is going to think I’m a slut. Oh, and I probably need at least three pieces of jewelry or else my boss is going to think I’m not ‘dressing for the job.’” Being a girl is so much fun! And involves so many layers! Like an onion made out of sexism.
Yet even when products should supposedly be exactly the same, women still wind up getting drained of extra money. When a product is designed for women (often just by making it pink) It’s called the “pink tax” partly because the products are often magically made more expensive by being made pink. You may have recently seen the video going around about it. Some of the highlights of the video—a 1995 California study into the pink tax said that women spent an average of $1,351 more than men on similar products (That’s about $2073 in 2014 money). Today, women can expect to pay more than men for a wide range of products used by both. Some of these, like perfume, could arguably just be demand — maybe more women want perfume than men? Does that explain the nearly twenty dollars more for the “for her” version of a perfume? But it sure as hell isn’t the excuse for everything: a woman will pay one dollar more than a man for an identical razor, almost twenty dollars more for a haircut, and twenty-five cents more at the dry cleaner than a man even when they are sending in the exact same shirt (because hers is a “lady shirt”? Seriously?). A pink pillow is $1 more than the identical brown pillow. Because it’s a lady pillow? I think that phrase came up in Carrie and it doesn’t mean what the pillow manufacturers think it means.
The “pink tax” has come up a few times over the last few years, partly thanks to things like the explosion of the “Bic for her” pens. The pastel-colored “Cristal” pens boasted “Elegant design – just for her! and “Thin barrel to fit a woman’s hand.” There’s no word on whether or not misspelling “cristal” is a gendered choice. The package of sixteen pens costs $10.14 on Amazon. Meanwhile you can get a 24-pack of normal (aka MANLY AND PLAIN) Bic Cristal pens for $7.29 on Amazon. It’s not promising me an “elegant design” or a thin barrel, but as far as I can tell they’re basically identical to the “lady pens.” You can just get them for about thirty cents per pen, instead of sixty-three cents per pen. The internet found out about the pens, which led to some of the funniest Amazon reviews ever created. No seriously. Go read. I’ll wait.
But the endless mocking of the pens seems to have done nothing to stem the tide of “for her,” pastelized, pink-ified products (or for that matter, made Bic stop shilling ridiculously gendered products to women at double the prices). You can buy pink USB cables with rhinestones, cameras with “Make-up mode” that instantly fix your flaws, and pink keyboards from a company that actually calls itself “Keyboards for Blondes.” You can buy pink pistols and stun guns (or even buy a stun gun disguised as pink lipstick!), pink tools, or pink gear from pretty much any major athletic team (which kind of doesn’t make sense, because isn’t half the point of wearing athletic swag to be wearing your team colors? I don’t understand sports ball…).
Now don’t misunderstand—I’m not inherently against the color pink. I went through my whole “knee-jerk rejection against pink” phase of my wee early feminist days back in high school and undergrad. Pink is a perfectly fine color. What I object to is the automatic association between something being pink and something being feminine, and further than that, the idea that making something “girly” is a justification for making it cost more. Pink hasn’t even been a fully “girly” color for a century—in the early 1900s, pink was a decidedly masculine color, because it was a “more decided and stronger” color, while girls were supposed to wear blue because it is more “delicate and dainty.” (Gender stereotypes were obviously still going strong). It wasn’t until the 1940s that pink started becoming the go-to color for girls. So I don’t object to products being made in a variety of colors, including in pink. But the shameless peddling of products towards women by making them pink, as if women are some sort of color-obsessed species of magpie, or utterly incapable of owning and operating products in other colors, pisses me off. I have never once heard a woman say “this generic pen is too large for my delicate and dainty hands!” or “I don’t know how to use this hammer, it’s brown!” I’ve certainly never heard a woman say “I believe it is my duty as a woman to pay two dollars more for this product, because it is pink.”
But “catering to women” often translates to “condescending to and/or exploiting women” when it comes to commercial products. And because it’s usually a few dollars here and a few dollars there, women often don’t notice, don’t care, or assume that it’s yet another stupid thing that we have to put up with. As Elizabeth Plank points out, women are actively discouraged from discovering the pink tax, and from doing anything about it even if they do discover it. Men’s products and women’s products are often segregated in store aisles, so it may not even occur to a woman trying to quickly complete her shopping to go to the other end of the aisle, or even the next aisle, to price-check items. If a woman does, there are more subtle differences in products that discourage a woman from buying male products, such as scent or lack thereof. We’ve been pretty thoroughly convinced that women are supposed to smell like “spring rain” or “lilac and gardenia” or “cucumber melon” (seriously, what is up with cucumber melon?!) and therefore worry about smelling too “masculine” if we buy something scented like “pine” or “musk.”
In terms of overcoming the “pink tax,” there are a few things that women (and men!) can do. As always, you can write to your congressperson. California and New York have passed laws prohibiting changing prices based on consumer gender (even though the fines for breaking the law are small, and the enforcement of the laws is “oh haha, you thought we were going to enforce this? Oh honey.”). You can also write to them about getting rid of ridiculous and antiquated tariffs on female products (that translate to higher prices for women), like the one that taxes the importation of women’s footwear more than the importation of men’s footwear. In the short term, women can improve their bank balances and make their opinions “heard” by buying identical or similar “guy” products instead of their normal “girly” purchases. So after my current stock of Venus razors runs out (because I deserve to feel like a goddess when I’ve got one leg curled into a pretzel and the other hooked over the edge of the tub in a desperate attempt to avoid slicing my own flesh while I try to fit into post WWII beauty ideals) you can count on me replacing them with a “guy’s” razor. And I’m going to be buying monotone pens in bulk. Because have you guys even seen my hands? They’re not all that freaking dainty.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week in Tomorrow. When she’s not trying to fit her hands into gender-stereotyped gloves, she studies gender in popular culture.